Cervical smear

• The cervical smear test is carried out to look for a change in the skin lining the part of the cervix that juts into the vagina. Such a change is described as 'pre-cancerous'. It is not cancer, but it does indicate that cancer may develop if the condition remains untreated.

• For a smear test, you will be asked to lie on your back with your legs bent and your knees parted. A plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, is inserted into the vagina to hold it open so that the cervix can be seen.

• The doctor or nurse will examine the cervix and collect some cervical cells. This is done by gently scraping the cervix in a circular motion using a specially designed spatula and possibly also a small brush. The cells are smeared onto a glass slide, and will be examined under a microscope in the laboratory.

• A smear test only takes a few minutes. It is not painful but can be a bit uncomfortable.

• Your doctor or nurse will be able to tell you how long it will take to get the test results.

• The abnormal appearance of cells on a smear associated with pre-cancerous changes is called dyskaryosis.